Archive for April, 2013


April 27, 2013

Last fall, I started a new work schedule. I now work an extra hour a day and this extra hour accrues into a paid day off every other week. (I think this is a common government schedule because I first heard about it from friend who work for the city of San Diego, and people like my mother-in-law who worked for the county and my friend who works for the Federal government both understood this schedule immediately, while just about everyone else was baffled by it.) This new schedule was a way for Mr. WholeHog and me to have more time off together. He was able to get Sundays off and I (finally) got my work to agree to this different schedule. We went from having no days off together to having six days a month off together.

worksunsetsunset out the office window

I thought this would feel like a huge improvement in our lives, but I really struggled with my new schedule initially. I started working longer hours right around when daylight savings time ended and being at work when it was so dark made me feel like I was working far more than just one additional hour. My manager hadn’t told anyone else in the office about my new schedule, so I also felt uncomfortable about taking my days off, and I didn’t know what to say when people commented on how early I was coming to work or how late I was at my desk at night. I was also stressed about working the correct number of hours. Although I’d never even thought about how many hours I worked on my previous 9-5 schedule, now I’d skip lunch to make up for the time I took off for a doctor’s appointment.

It was physically hard for me, too. It was just one extra hour, but I felt like I spent all day sitting. I became one of those people who refuse to sit on transit. Even when I could take the J Church home and walk just three blocks home, I often chose to take BART and walk the 10-15 blocks home just to move my legs.

But eventually my new schedule became known in the office. Daylight savings time returned and I no longer felt like I was working a graveyard shift. I got used to working longer hours. And I began to really love having a weekday off.

steepravine-bridgeSteep Ravine trail on a weekday

It’s a day when I don’t have to worry very much about traffic or crowds or any of the other things that might convince me to stay home on a weekend. My weekdays off also seem deceptively longer than weekend days, perhaps because there are fewer demands on my time or because I don’t spend any time preparing for the work week.

Mr. WholeHog and I now purposefully save certain things to do for our weekdays off together. We chose to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge on one of our weekdays. (We’d assumed that the bridge would be less crowded, but I’m not sure that worked out; the bridge was pretty busy even on a Tuesday.)

On a sunny Tuesday last week, we decided around 2pm to head up to Mt. Tam for a hike. On weekend, this late start would have deterred us from going to Marin. On a sunny weekend afternoon, there’d be heavy traffic out to Stinson Beach, the main parking lots on Mt. Tam would already be full, and there’d likely be traffic on the bridge on our way back to the City.

steepravine-42103Steep Ravine trail on a weekday

But on a weekday, few people are heading to Stinson and the commuter traffic is all coming out of the City. When we arrived at the Pantoll parking lot, it was mostly empty. We were one of only four cars. The trails were empty, too. We walked down the Steep Ravine trail, which is normally a pretty popular trail, but this time around we saw almost no one.


On Gardening

April 25, 2013

Spring is when people often start to think about gardening, when the warmer weather and longer days make it appealing to being outside with our hands in the dirt. This means it’s time to share some of what I learned last year when I took a monthly class on urban gardening. The class covered so many aspects of gardening — sunlight, soil, compost/fertilizer, water, pest management — and yet what has really stuck with me are my gardening teacher’s three simple guidelines:

1. Start Small

Starting small is hard for me because when I think about gardening, I think about abundance. I think about all the things I’d like to grow But starting small is perhaps the simplest way to set beginning gardeners like me up for gardening success because it prevents us from taking on too much too soon. If we go whole hog and plant a bunch of stuff in our gardens, we may end up feeling overwhelmed and we may be more likely to give up on our gardens or lose track of what’s happening in our gardens.

Starting small also helps with gardening guideline #2:

2. Observe Closely

This initially baffled me, and I finally asked the instructor, what am I looking for? And the answer will be somewhat different depending on your experience, but the basic idea of observing closely is to simply pay attention to your plants. It could be just noticing if your plants are growing or flowering or bolting. Are your plants green or are the leaves turning yellow? Are there signs that something is eating your plants? I assume that with more experience, you can start to tell if your plants need more water or more sun. Maybe you’ll be able to tell exactly what bug is eating your plants and what to do about it.

But observing closely isn’t just about plants. It also helps to observe yourself closely. This way you notice whether you are finding the time to check on your garden or to water your plants. For me, observing closely means realizing that I’m much more likely to take care of the plants on our deck, which are right out the kitchen door, than the plants we have in the ground three stories below, and considering growing more on the deck.

Noticing what works and doesn’t work for you in your garden is also part of guideline #3:

3. Keep it Joyful

Now anyone who knows me knows that I can’t stand a word like joyful, but you get the idea: keep gardening fun because if it’s fun, you’re more apt to stick with it. If you stick with it, you’ll keep observing and learning from it.


You’ll notice that these three steps didn’t mention anything about actually putting plants in the dirt (and putting plants in the dirt is what I think of as gardening). But my gardening class taught me that a big part of gardening is making decisions — where to plant (what areas get the most sun?); what to plant (and when); how to water (watering can or drip irritation?); where to get compost (make it at home or buy it?).

And these guidelines offer a framework for making these many decisions. Does making my own compost help keep gardening “joyful” for me? No, I’d rather buy it. Should I hand-water or use drip irritation? My gardening teacher says she enjoys watering her garden and she finds that when she hand-waters, she’s better at observing closely. But I tend to forget to water so I hope to eventually put in drip irritation (and, in the meantime, I try to plant hardy crops). Should I plant peas or lettuce? Lettuce might be more practical, but I really love growing peas and I’ve observed that they tend to survive even when I neglect them so I’ve planted peas (and they’re thriving).

Although I’ve found my teacher’s gardening principles really useful, I’m still trying to follow them in my own garden. We started small last year and planted only some carrots, beets and herbs, but it wasn’t really joyful. The neighborhood squirrels kept digging up our plants, and my focus was on the work we were doing inside our flat so I didn’t really spend much time in the garden to observe it. It took us until February (when we were quite successfully farming some weeds) to get back to the garden. Once again my inclination was not to start small: I wanted to replace all the weeds with seeds and starts, but instead we planted a few things (and covered them with chicken wire to see if we could keep the squirrels out) and we put down some mulch to try to keep down the weeds. An,d so far, even I have to admit, it’s been more joyful.

Buttermilk Trail

April 21, 2013

I make a point of visiting my old home town in the summer to swim in the Yuba river, and the last few years, I’ve tried to also visit in the spring to walk on the Buttermilk trail.


It’s an easy and mostly flat walk in above the river (it looks down on where my family and I used to swim in the summer months), and it’s a good hike for people like me who don’t know much about wildflowers because there are signs along the trail that identify the many different wildflowers in bloom.

April is high season for wildflowers, but the weather can be iffy. One year it snowed the day after we’d walked on the Buttermilk trail; this year it was so warm that people were already swimming in the river.


Last year we didn’t get a chance to visit during wildflower season; by April, our remodel had taken over our lives. The year before, I’d walked the trail in May, in a daze, still confused and stunned about the end of my sister’s marriage. That year we were too late for wildflowers, but flowers were the least of our concerns. This year, though, made up for it: the weather was lovely and there were many, many flowers.



April 19, 2013

Spring looks different in the foothills of California than on the coast. On a recent trip to Grass Valley and Nevada City to visit my parents and in-laws, the whole area was full of dogwoods.



Dogwoods are one of my favorite trees. They are always a true sign of spring to me and they’re one of the (few) things I miss about where I grew up. (I was excited to see a dogwood at SF’s Flora Grubb nursery recently, but the guy working there said that it wasn’t a variety that would normally survive in SF. He said the “Cloud 9” dogwood might be OK in SF but it grows 35 feet high — a little much for our little garden.)


Beyond the dogwoods, there were other signs of spring. My parents’ apple trees were in bloom (that’s an Arkansas Black apple tree pictured below), and the peonies had giant buds the size of golf balls and were almost ready to bloom.



Toast: Then & Now

April 12, 2013

When I was in college, I’d get up early on weekday mornings and head down to a nearby bakery. I’d order a cup of coffee and a thick slice of toast with jam for breakfast and settle in at my favorite corner table to finish up my homework before I had to go to class.

This became such a ritual for me that eventually the people at the bakery knew my order and they’d put a piece of toast in when they saw me come through the doors. (I became such a regular, in fact, that one day not long after I’d moved to SF, a woman on the N Judah said I looked familiar to her and it turned out she worked at that Santa Cruz bakery where I’d have my morning toast and coffee.)

the millMy taste in coffee and in bread has changed a lot since college (I wasn’t a regular coffee drinker then), and I doubt that my old breakfast would be palatable to me now that I’m used to starting my mornings with Blue Bottle Coffee and Tartine or Della Fattoria bread.

But there’s now a place in SF where I can get a much-improved version of my old college breakfast: The Mill, a new coffee and bread shop on Divisadero. The Mill serves better coffee (SF’s Four Barrel) and better bread (baked by local bread man Josey Baker), and they are serious about toast: they have a toast menu that chantoastges daily. It might include cinnamon toast or toast with crunchy almond butter. On the day I was there, there was a rye toast with cream cheese and I’ve read about a toast that is topped with maple syrup (I must try this!).

I opted for the day’s special toast, which was really similar to the toast I used to eat on those early mornings in Santa Cruz: a thick slice of toast with butter, strawberry preserves and a little salt (the salt was a nice, subtle addition). The toast wasn’t exactly mind-blowing and my macchiato was a tad muddy, but I still liked the place if for no other reason than it reminded me of another time.

This was March

April 3, 2013

We made the most of the beautiful (and dry) weather in March: we camped, hiked, biked, explored new corners of the City, and spent some time in our garden. It was such a stark contrast to last March when we began our remodel and spent that dreary month looking at tile, appliances, and countertops.

Selling Flowers at the Farmers Market I filled in at the farmers market on the first Saturday in March, the first time I’d worked the market since December. (On my way to the market at 6am, I got to see previews of the pretty new Bay Lights project on the Bay Bridge.) Apples are long gone, but I sold flowers and came home with some flowering quince branches, which bloomed in our kitchen over the next few weeks.


We watched dozens of cedar waxwings feast on our neighbors red-berry bush and congregate on our neighbors’ bamboo. (Crummy picture but you get the idea).


Hiking & Camping
We spent a lot of time outside. We hiked San Bruno mountain, took two favorite Mt. Tam hikes and hiked in Point Reyes. We camped.



Exploring the City
We went to two new-to-me areas of the City: the neighborhood around Precita Park, a surprisingly charming corner of the City given that it butts up against Highway 101 and the busy (and ugly) part of Cesar Chavez Street, and Potrero Hill park and community garden in Potrero Hill.

Biking the Golden Gate Bridge
Biking across the Bridge had long been on my to-do list, and Mr. WholeHog and I checked it off my list. This picture is just for show (the picture was taken from the car on a previous trip); there was no time or space to take pictures while I was on my bike.


The chicken wire we put up in February has mostly kept the squirrels from destroying our latest starts. My parsley and peas look good, and I was so thrilled when the fava beans we planted from seed finally sprouted.